My Mother and Other Strangers

This snuggly new quilt of a Sunday night period drama appears to have been stitched entirely from patches of other snuggly, Sunday night period dramas.

Writer Barry Devlin cut his teeth on Ballykissangel, which shares a similar premise of an English incomer adjusting to life in a rural Irish community (in this case, Hattie Morahan as a rather prim and proper Home Counties gel in 1940s County Londonderry). The ‘what did you do in the war, Mummy?’ angle recalls ITV’s recent Home Fires, while each episode is topped and tailed by a rumbly, twinkly homily from Ciaran Hinds, sending fireside dispatches from the future in the manner of Vanessa Redgrave in Call the Midwife.

To reinforce the point that she’s an English rose among the thorny, ornery locals, Morahan’s character – who’s so buttoned-up she can’t even say the word ‘desire’ without giggling like a schoolgirl – listens to Vaughan Williams and is called… well, Rose.

But Rose isn’t the only alien in their midst. The parish is also home to a thousands of USAAF servicemen, who are treated to a traditional Irish welcome of suspicion, boiling resentment and lynchings in the barn. Rose’s husband Michael (Owen McDonnell) appears a bit more evolved – until a Kentucky lieutenant makes a move on his 16-year-old daughter. Unbeknown to him, his wife is also falling for the charms of the dashing Captain Dreyfuss (Mad Men’s Aaron Staton), who looks good in uniform and can recite The Lady of Shalott verbatim.

Devlin, who was inspired by his own childhood experiences living near a US airbase in County Antrim, doesn’t exactly paint the most flattering portrait of his fellow countrymen, who are largely hot-headed, spud-eared yokels taking agin’ the good ole Yankee flyboys. But no doubt we’ll discover their hearts of gold in time.

Elsewhere, My Mother and Other Strangers leans heavily on our appetite for wartime nostalgia – a world of ration books, nylons, Lucky Strikes and Spam. It’s a formulaic but irresistible, almost cynically well executed example of the art, which has all the makings of a huge hit.

TV extra:


The Pity of War: The Lives and Loves of the War Poets

This poignant, haunting film, shown on Remembrance Sunday, told the interwoven stories of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves in their own words, using their poetry and letters as the basis for a series of reconstructions and talking head ‘interviews’. Extra gravitas was provided by John Hurt as the older Sassoon, still full of sorrow and rage, 50 years on. No-one played the older Owen, of course: he died on November 4, 1918 – just seven days before the monstrous anger of the guns finally fell silent.


The Crown

Does The Crown justify Netflix’s £100m investment – and the tsunami of hype? Mostly. With the likes of Stephen Daldry on board, Peter Morgan’s take on the House of Windsor was always going to look ravishing. The story itself moves at an appropriately stately pace – and is slightly hampered by the fact we all know where it’s going. But the performances are terrific, especially Claire Foy’s cut-glass QEII (‘pugs are awful gessy,’ she lamented), Matt Smith’s rascally Prince Philip and John Lithgow, effortlessly ascending to the front rank of screen Churchills.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, November 17, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend